The Master said:
“In the landscape of spring there is neither high nor low;
the flowering branches grow naturally, some long, some short.”
The sun scattered the snowflakes, sending diamonds in every direction, and causing my father’s eyes to take on a certain vibrancy: crystal clear and boundless blue. That is the first memory I have of my father. I was about three years old, and we were standing in our driveway. He had been shoveling snow, and I was looking up through the flurries into my dad’s bemused smile and bright blue eyes. My father’s eyes were expressive: sometimes humorous, sometimes piercing but always the same sparkling blue. I was reminded of this image of my dad after finishing the chapter entitled “Son” from Andrew Solomon’s Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity. Solomon’s research explores types of alienation, notions of conformity and the individual’s formation of an independent persona. He believes that “everyone has a defect, that everyone has an identity, and that they are often one and the same.” And he reminds us that dropping the need to conform to someone else’s expectations gives forgiveness room to grow. Solomon’s text made me think about how I choose to define both myself and my relationship with my father. I also remembered certain times when I failed to meet my dad’s expectations (and he fell short of meeting mine). And I have also been thinking a lot about the color blue.
The last time I kissed my father was moments after a nurse had entered the room and told us that he was dead. His right eye was frozen, half open; the iris was a murky, broken blue. I was shaking as I leaned down and kissed him softly on the forehead. As I did my heart broke loose. It’s not right. What am I going to do? I’m not ready. Why? Then the sound of my mother’s anguish flooded my ears… I didn’t know it then, but I think at that moment the color blue changed for me. And as we left the hospital and were walking to the car, I remember looking up and seeing a cloudless, dull blue sky.
Blue is primary. If the way I see the color blue changes, I change in a profound way. Blue is moody. The pianist Marian McPartland says that the note B flat is blue. Blue is dreamy. Joni Mitchell compared blue to a “foggy lullaby” bouncing around in a seashell. And blue is sad. Blue is sorrowful and sad. Picasso, like me, has his blue period, but unlike me, he has a lot of paintings to show for it. I look around my apartment, and I don’t see very much that is blue. I don’t know what happened to all of the blue in my life. Maybe it is trapped inside me. I don’t think that I have lost my appreciation for all the ways blue is beautiful: azure, cobalt, indigo, teal, navy, turquoise. But maybe I have been neglecting my own blue without realizing it.
My father died on Labor Day, September 2, 1996. I believe I have been seeing blue in a certain, gloomy way for almost twenty years. Although I have thought about my father every single day, I feel compelled, at this stage of my life, to reassess my feelings towards him. And like many people, I wish I understood so much more about my parents. Andrew Solomon feels that it is difficult to embrace a so-called vertical identity: one that spans the generations. He believes that horizontal identities afford better opportunities for us to connect with others and to understand ourselves. However, in a society like ours that is changing so rapidly, it is challenging to find a vector; horizontal, vertical or at any angle; which can join us to each other. We really are often like Whitman’s patient spider: hoping that we can build a bridge, a link, a “gossamer thread” that latches on to something. So I suppose in this sense my blue is also puzzling and mysterious.
So often, the analytical part of my brain is completely engaged. I want to figure out the world. Maybe that is why science fascinates me. Often, when I am hiking in the woods or passing by someone’s garden, the scientific part of my mind wants to classify the trees and flowers. I want to know their varieties and their growth habits – I want to organize and study everything. And then there are other times when I want the artistic part of my brain to switch on; I want to just enjoy the beauty of an experience without investigating it. I think that many of us look at ourselves and others as problems to be figured out. I know that I have looked at my father, and myself, in this way. But more and more, I am trying to see the people and events in my life not like math problems that need to be solved, but like works of art to be enjoyed. When I can view my dad the same way I view a painting, I can revisit him without engaging in some kind of serious scrutiny or solemn interpretation. Even if the horizontal and vertical lines become skewed, even if the perspective (my perspective) is distorted, I can still appreciate my connection to my father aesthetically. In doing so, I can find so many rich details in my father’s personality that, in the past, I may never have noticed or appreciated. Andrew Solomon’s ideas have great value, yet sometimes after reading a work like his, I feel myself drifting into a type of hyper-analysis, a kind of emotionally heavy navel-gazing. I want to celebrate blue again with a light heart. I want to appreciate the beauty of blue, and everything else, without trying to determine what it all means. And I want to delight in the beauty of a cerulean sea, a necklace of lapis lazuli and my nephew’s wide, innocent eyes: crystal clear and boundless blue.